NEW YORK - The front window of a Brooklyn Chabad was smashed in the early hours of Saturday morning while some 15 people, including children, were inside, just feet away from the shattering glass.
“We were in the middle of the Shabbat meal, it was towards the end but there were still many people from the synagogue,” Rabbi Menachem Heller told Haaretz. “My children were there as well, my wife was there, my baby was there and some other children [...] The children were playing on the floor right next to the table.”
After hearing what Rabbi Heller described as a “very scary sound” and seeing the front window break, most people in the Chabad house ran to hide in the corners of the room.
“It was terrifying because you didn’t know if something was going to come afterwards,” he said. “I jumped up and I just grabbed the kids and we went behind a bookcase to hide.”
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Police are still looking for the suspects. Rabbi Heller, who was able to get a glimpse of them that night before they turned the street corner, said he saw two African-American young men who appeared to be in their early twenties.
Saturday morning’s attack is the latest in a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents taking place in New York City over the past few years.
In 2018, the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force recorded a 23 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents citywide with a grand total of 189 incidents, compared to 154 in 2017.
As for the first few weeks of 2019, it seems to follow the upward trend: Between January 1st and February 13th of this year, a total of 32 anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, compared to 17 during the same period in 2018, an 88 percent increase.
“We have had instances where people have said not nice things to us, but never like this,” Rabbi Heller told Haaretz. “I grew up here so I feel safe but i can’t say that i never hear things said to me. I hear things all the time."
While he is also immune to anti-Semitic slurs being yelled his way, as a father, he said, knowing these can turn violent is “very scary”.
“It’s tough when your son is asking you if you are afraid and I tell him I am not but I’m not sure myself exactly how to deal with it,” he said.
The storefront glass window did not stop Rabbi Heller and his wife Chana from hosting congregants on Shabbat morning.
“We had the minyan and we had kiddush and everyone stayed and we did everything as usual,” he said.
“We face this unfortunate experience not with discouragement, but with solid determination: To continue celebrating our faith, sharing our rich heritage, and offering our culture in an inclusive and warm environment,” a statement posted to the Chabad of Bushwick’s facebook page said.
“At the same time, we acknowledge the disturbing and increasingly frequent incidents of hate and prejudice in our New York community and its destructive and divisive effects, especially on young people.”
“We encourage each other and the public to stand up against it, whenever it occurs, whatever form it takes, and towards whomever it is directed,” it continued. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
No one was injured in the attack, and police who arrived at the scene minutes later didn’t find any object inside the room, suggesting that the vandals used something handheld to break the glass.
Detectives of the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force are investigating the incident and are set to meet again with Rabbi Heller on Monday to discuss the investigation and further security measures.